Onlookers in Oahu watch ocean water surge into Ala Wai Harbor. (Eugene Tanner / Associated…)
Thousands of people evacuated their homes along Hawaii’s coastlines overnight but were allowed to return early Sunday after tsunami waves hit the islands with less intensity than predicted.
The highest wave was about 5 feet from peak to trough — about 2 1/2 feet above sea level — on the island of Maui, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. No serious damage was reported.
The waves were triggered by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake off British Columbia, which also resulted in brief tsunami warnings for southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest coast. But Hawaii was in the direct line of a surge that proved to be smaller than expected.
“The tsunami arrived about when we expected it should. It was a little smaller than we expected,” Gerald Fryer, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Oahu, told reporters.
The warning Saturday evening touched off traffic jams as sirens sounded and a mandatory evacuation took effect in coastal areas, including Waikiki Beach, where hotel guests were moved to higher floors. More than 800 people checked into emergency shelters on the Big Island, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.
There were isolated reports of some boats being pulled partially from their moorings as small waves, all less than 3 feet above sea level, hit various shores across the islands.
The final tsunami advisory ended at 4 a.m. Hawaii time.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said residents were still advised to avoid beaches. “We’re very, very grateful and thankful we can go home … and count our blessings at this point,” he said.
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